If the numerous previews haven’t given it away yet, this week is Google’s annual developers conference. It’s where dreams come true in the world of Android, and we’re all expecting Google to make some big announcements about the next version of its mobile operating system, code-named Android M.
This year—as with the last few years—we expect Google to tease some of the marquee features of the next version of Android. Last year, we got a huge interface overhaul with Lollipop. This year we want Google to focus on the under-the-hood fundamentals: security and privacy, updates, backup, battery, and cross-platform features.
Granular privacy controls
According to Bloomberg, Android M will introduce the ability to select exactly which permissions a particular app may have. For instance, if an app asks for access to your contacts for whatever reason, but you’re not too keen on that idea, you can simply remove the app’s ability to access that information and go on to use it. Sure, whatever features rely on knowing your contacts won’t work, but the rest of the app will. Previously, you’d have to completely opt out of using an app if you didn’t like even a single one of the permissions it asks for access to.
Granular privacy controls are exactly what Android needs to also help dispel the myth that it’s the most perilous mobile operating system out there. Frankly, it’s a wonder why this feature hasn’t been yet introduced—its competitors beat it to the punch years ago. My only concern is that the average smartphone user might not understand what this particular feature does or how to use it. My mother, for instance, is a brand new Android user, and just the mere thought of having to explain to her what granular privacy controls are overwhelms me.
Regardless, making these kind of privacy controls native to the operating system is a good start. We’re finally convincing the public that they should be concerned with their digital privacy, and companies should follow through by enabling its users more control over technology they use on a daily basis.
Timely Android Updates
Raise your hand if you’re annoyed that you had to buy a new phone or manually flash Lollipop to your device because you could no longer wait for your carrier to push an update to you. I’m raising my hand. Honestly, if it weren’t for my job, I would probably still be on KitKat.
However, the answer to getting timely Android updates shouldn’t be to simply “buy a Nexus device.” Many users either don’t have that option or rely heavily on the carrier subsidy for a new phone every few years. That’s the irony of the situation, too: the carriers are typically the culprit when it comes up to holding up Android updates, but without them we’d all have to pay full price for our devices.
The solution lies within Google’s ability to update Android bit-by-bit. Google needs to further separate the core operating system from the manufacturer customizations, so that the foundation of the OS can be updated straight through the Google Play store without disturbing the custom interface and features piled on by Samsung, LG, HTC, and others.
Google should also consider cracking down on manufacturers and—dare I say it—regulating software updates. It should introduce some sort of service-level-agreement in its terms and conditions for Google Mobile Services. Google requires manufacturers to bundle apps like Maps, Gmail, Chrome, and YouTube if they want access to the Play Store. In the same way, it could require manufacturers guarantee timely operating system updates.
That way, even if the software still has to run through carrier testing, at least all the OEMs will be on the same update schedule. Then we’ll have more ammo against the carriers when we eventually revolt because our phones and tablets still aren’t being updated on time.
An actual backup solution
I’m sorry Google, but what you have going on with Android right now in terms of backing up data isn’t working for me. It is my job to constantly switch back and forth between phones, and I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve lost as a result of that. My contacts are never properly synched between devices, and I’m always apologizing for forgetting to respond to something because I accidentally lost someone’s number in the phone shuffle.
It’s not just my contacts either. I want the assurance that all of my photos—even the numerous screenshots I’ve taken—and phone settings will transfer over to my new device without any hassle on my end. Tap & Go was supposed to fix all of this, but sometimes it doesn’t always work.
Since Google’s got all that space up in the cloud, why doesn’t it just store everything up there? When I switch devices, or factory reset my phone, I want to restore more than just the last dozen apps I’ve downloaded; I want to bring over saved games, settings, attached accounts, call logs, downloaded files, and browsing histories along with it. It’d also be great to have some sort of lightweight desktop application that can create and restore backups, in case Wi-Fi or cellular data isn’t readily available (or just to speed things up).
There are third-party apps that do this, but most of them require root permission to really do a thorough job. It's time for true, complete, thorough backup to be a part of the OS.
Better battery life and monitoring
Remember that memory leak issue in Android 5.0 that evolved into a rampant battery issue over time? I’m hoping that was a catalyst for change, and that’s why there have been several reports that Google is working on better battery life and RAM usage in Android.
If it’s true, this news is great; it means Google is looking for a way to control power consumption through Google Play Services, rather than through a deep, system-level option. Project Volta was supposed to be the answer to some of Android’s battery performance issues, but alas, we’re still dealing with devices that just won’t make it through an entire day. I know battery technology is an ever-evolving area, but as more Android phones come out with sealed batteries that can’t be removed, Google has to do something to help with overall battery life.
Working across platforms
I sit in the same row of cubicles as my Macworld colleagues and they’re always clamoring about how great iOS’s Continuity is. And then I get a little jealous, because I remember that if it wasn’t for PushBullet, I wouldn’t have this similar kind of seamless interoperability between my computer and my Android devices. PushBullet has its limitations, however, and because it’s third-party software, and as popular as it is, many users don't even know it exists.
Google should revamp the platform’s cross-platform capabilities—like what NextBit attempted to do with Cyanogen. I want to be able to start an email on my phone and finish it up on my tablet. I’d love to takes phone calls on my Mac while I have my headset on, instead of having to drop everything I’m doing just to answer the phone. I want to see, and respond to, my notifications from my laptop, and not just when running Chrome OS or the Chrome browser.
I already see the beginnings of some of these features within apps like Hangouts, but there are still many kinks to work out. I have so many Android-powered things in my life—a phone, a watch, a tablet, and a television—that there needs to be an easier way to synchronize data and actions across all of those devices (and non-Android devices, too!).
Ready for what’s next?
I was just getting used to the idea of Lollipop, but now it’s time to prepare for the arrival of a new addition to the family: Android M. Of course, it won't actually arrive until late this year, but it will be all the Android community can talk about. We’ll be covering all the major announcements at Google I/O this week, beginning Thursday, May 28. Stay tuned.